A more comprehensive version of this article including other diversity issues is available here
The Yorkshire accent: A business hindrance or a help?
Over the last few weeks I’ve been considering the age-old question of ‘Ye’ or ‘Nay’ when it comes to speaking in your mother tongue.
Being ‘born and bred’ in Churwell and educated at Batley Grammar School, I’ve always had a strong Leeds accent with the odd Irish slang finding its way into conversation too due to my background. My accent has never really been an issue before. While studying at Bradford two years ago and being subjected to the usual ‘North vs. South’ banter that comes with being a fresher, I was proud of my accent; of being a ‘down-to-earth’ Northerner as opposed to a ‘soft’ Southerner. But since moving to Harrogate three years and beginning my venture into the world of business, my thoughts on the broad Yorkshire accent have definitely started to sour.
My accent has been a constant source of attention since working at the Pitcher and Piano in Harrogate and I’ve even been given the nickname ‘Morley’. My accent just stands out like a sore thumb in contrast to the received pronunciation of Harrogate (how can 13 miles make so much difference!). I never thought I spoke particularly broadly, but the way I speak is often mimicked, such as the way I say ‘Nooo’ or the way that for some reason forget to use the word ‘the’ or reduce ‘to’ to just ‘t’. I am even greeted with phrases I never use, such as ‘Ey up’ and ‘By gum’!
Now don’t get me wrong, I laugh along with the jokes and I don’t get offended. I know that it’s all done in jest – the usual work banter that has helped me fit in with the rest of my colleges and makes working in the bar more fun. Some of the customers even like my accent and it’s a talking point that has helped me make friends. However, I’ve recently started to listen to my voice through the ears of others, and it doesn’t sound good.
As wrong as it may seem, there are some accents that people associate with certain personalities and characteristics. A simple google search for ‘Matched-guise test’ will enlighten you on just how others perceived you based on your accent. Though the Yorkshire accent is thought to be more reliable and trustworthy, the poor use of grammar and missing out of certain words also can make speakers seem less intelligent then they really are. In contrast, those speaking in ‘Received Pronunciation’ may sound a little colder, but may be able to give the impression of sounding smarter than they really are on a first impression (maybe a Yorkshire/RP mix would result in a trusting but intelligent professional?).
Of course any impression can be changed over time no matter how you speak, but anyone studying or working in business knows how important a first impression is. It can make or break interviews, client meetings or winning an important pitch.
Those who think the way they speak has no effect on their careers are in denial. Prejudice based on accents may be wrong, but it does happen, as this guardian article proves with almost 50% of company directors seeing strong regional accents as a disadvantage in the business world. And they have a point. Some accents are hard for people to understand, and others are just plain hard to listen to.
To think that my accent won’t affect my career would be imprudent. From just my first year’s experience I’ve realised that the way people speak is incredibly important in PR. I’ve noticed many practitioners using ‘phone voices’ in order to sound a little more southern to appeal more to the wealth of media in London. I’ve also noticed heads turn in PR offices when I speak on the phone in my regional accent, and not in a good way – the more cringe worthy way. I can see that my accent makes me sound stupid, even when I’m making a good point and I can tell when whoever is on the other line is thinking the same thing.
So now I’m trying hard to copy the accent I hear in Harrogate, both for career and personal reasons, although it’s easier said then done as the Yorkshire accent is a tough one to shake off! For those who don’t know just how strong a West Yorkshire accent is, check out this YouTube video of a little girl with an incredibly broad accent, though judging by the comments some people do find this accent very appealing.
Out of interest I decided to use my Twitter and Facebook account to see how others found the Yorkshire accent and if it had any place in business. Results were mixed. Some said it wasn’t about how you say things but about what you say. Another user more comically thought that the Yorkshire accent was fine, as long as it was confined to the farming business. I rest my case.